BUFFALO — “A kick in the gut” is how Bob Silvanik described his reaction to the first phone call he received Thursday morning.
“I still haven’t really absorbed it,” Silvanik said, “and probably won’t for a while, because it impacts so many people and kids that I care so much about.
“It’s just (affecting) everybody. It’s a great loss.”
That loss is the death of Lucas Otto, a 2020 Arthur-Lovington-Atwood-Hammond graduate who was killed late Wednesday in a motor vehicle crash east of Springfield.
Sangamon County Coroner Jim Allmon said Otto, 20, died from multiple blunt-force injuries he sustained when his vehicle was hit head-on on Interstate 72 near mile marker 118, about halfway between Buffalo and Illiopolis.
Illinois State Police said a preliminary investigation showed the vehicle that hit Mr. Otto was going the wrong way.
The accident happened about 11:20 p.m. Wednesday. The Sangamon County Coroner’s Office pronounced Mr. Otto dead at the scene early Thursday morning.
“I just loved him very much,” said Silvanik, who was Mr. Otto’s high school baseball coach for three of his four years at ALAH. “I’m going to miss him in person, but I’m going to keep him with me in spirit.”
The other driver was airlifted to a hospital with life-threatening injuries. That person’s name was not released.
Illinois State Police and Allmon’s office continue to investigate the crash.
Otto played both football and baseball for the Knights, earning 2019 News-Gazette All-Area football second-team status and 2019 N-G All-Area baseball special-mention recognition.
Otto was competing for Prospect League Baseball’s Springfield Lucky Horseshoes this spring and summer. He did not play in Springfield’s most recent game, a Wednesday night contest in Normal. The Lucky Horseshoes’ Thursday matchup with Quincy was postponed.
“Lucas was a beloved teammate, friend and son,” Springfield co-owner Jamie Toole said in a press release. “Lucas was always described as a kind soul who loved being around his teammates and the ballpark. The ’Shoes and the entire city of Springfield are mourning his loss.”
Otto had also been a pitcher for the Lake Land College baseball program.
“He played any sport he wanted to, and he excelled at every one of them,” Silvanik said. “He was really good, not just good. But he was also the happy-go-lucky kid on the team. So you have this combination of the star on the team ... and also the kid who likes to keep everybody loose and is everybody’s friend.
“That’s a rare combination and such a good thing to have on a high school team. He was beloved.”
Silvanik compared Mr. Otto to a jock character from the TV sitcom “Happy Days” because of his jovial nature and athletic prowess.
“He would be the guy who would say occasionally to coaches, ‘We need to chill, Coach,’” Silvanik said. “He would do that to other players, too, but only a certain kind of player can do it to a coach. That’s the kind of relationship I had with him. It was way beyond the baseball field.”
Mr. Otto leaves behind his mother, father and two younger siblings.
“It’s four communities (at ALAH), but one family,” Silvanik said. “Lucas was known in every community, and you may not even know which one he was from. That’s kind of the way it is around here.
“There’s a real family feeling. This is hurting deeply.”